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Deviation, continuity & keeping it DIY: A conversation with Frenchy and the Punk

12 December 2022

Let’s start with a bit of background. What is the musical path that got you both where you are today? How and when did you come to start working together?

Scott: I started out as a bass player in Westfield, MA. I bought my first bass in 1980 after hearing The Ramones and formed my first hardcore punk band, Deep Wound, with Lou Barlow and J Mascis in 1983. Soon after, I formed the hardcore/crossover trio Outpatients with my older brother and played in both bands for several years. We shared the stage with some of the great bands from that period, like Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, The Melvins, Cro-Mags, GBH. In DW, we wanted to be the fastest band and played at blistering speeds, almost to the point of noise. With Outpatients, we had a lot of different musical influences, so we really wanted to push the boundaries of hardcore. We were one of the early bands having a crossover hardcore and metallic sound.

I moved to NYC in ’88, joined the thrash-core band School of Violence, and regrouped Outpatients. In 1995, after 13 years of playing in the Hardcore scene, Outpatients disbanded and I switched to acoustic guitar to explore different musical styles. I released an ambient album, Space Age Tranceology, which charted on the New Age charts, a Celtic medieval album, I recorded a singer-songwriter album in 1998, but most of my musical output was instrumental music. I also recorded 2 experimental albums with soundscapes utilizing phone messages, TV samples and looped guitars back in `96. In 2005 Samantha and I started Frenchy and the Punk, albeit with a few prior name changes. Frenchy and the Punk has since gone on to tour across the US, Europe, Canada and West Africa, we have released 7 albums and a live DVD. We design all our own artwork and film, edit and produce all of our videos. In 2016 I started writing and releasing instrumental music again as Guitarmy of One, which is all instrumental music inspired by surf music, spy films and detective show themes. I wrote, recorded and released the Spy Detective Collective album during the pandemic just prior to working on the Zen Ghost album.

Samantha: Music was always present in my house growing up. My father played guitar and banjo every day after work, and my mother loved to sing. I started piano at the age of 7 and continued well into my late teens, but my first love was dance. I started learning dance at age 4 when growing up in England at the Royal School of Dance with ballet and continued after moving to the US at age 10 at the Morristown School of Ballet adding modern dance and later hip hop in college.

For me, music had always been a catalyst for movement and emotional solace and later accompaniment to my time in the studio working on sculpture and painting, not a career pursuit. I had traded performing arts for the visual arts after college but that all changed when Scott came along. We met in 1998 in NYC in an office where we were both temping to fuel our creative projects. We hit it off right away and started collaborating immediately.

Scott had left the punk band scene and was creating ambient sonic soundscapes, and I was constructing art installations. In order to save money to pursue our projects full-time, we ditched our living spaces and set ourselves up at the ‘music building’, an entire building of music rehearsal rooms on 38th street where Scott rented a rehearsal space. He sublet it to other bands like Sick Of It All, Madball, Brutal Truth and Agnostic Front, which covered the rent. We would blow up an air mattress every night, bands rehearsing 24/7 all around us, bands coming into the room late at night dropping off their gear after gigs. We lived like that for a year, taking the subway to the Parks & Recreation gym, which was $25/year to join back then, to take showers. The toilets in the music building were so awful I used to prefer walking outside and to the nearby Starbucks instead! It was a raw way to live, but we saved enough to manage to get a place in the Hudson Valley and start our music and art life full-time.

At first, the shows were Scott playing his solo instrumental music and I was selling his merch and my art and bat puppets that I sewed. At one gig, after a couple of drinks, he was playing my favorite of his songs, “Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads”, and I grabbed a tambourine that was lying off to the side, jumped onstage, and accompanied him. That kind of started it all. From my dance training, I have an innate sense of rhythm, so I started playing with him as a percussionist. When on tour in 2005 in a hotel in the middle of Kansas, Scott started playing a riff on his guitar that reminded me of a train. Lyrics flooded my mind…that was the start of my becoming the lyricist and singer for our project.

What are your main influences, musical and otherwise? I assume this question may differ for each of you.

Scott: I grew up with Jazz-loving parents so that music was always on in the house and was really the first music I was exposed to. They took me to see great artists like Count Basie, Gerry Mulligan, and Oscar Peterson and that was really cool, but it didn’t really move me in the way that hearing the fab four from Queens did for the first time. The Ramones really did change my life. I heard the song “Do You Remember Rock n Roll Radio” from the End of the Century album on a college station when I was just spinning the dial, and it blew me away. I went to the local record shop, and all they had was the Rocket to Russia LP.

I wasn’t even sure about buying it as it didn’t have that song, but it turned out to be even better. From there, I spent all my money from cutting lawns to buy albums and fanzines. Most of those records were and still are big influences. Motörhead, The Cure, Minor Threat, Discharge, Judas Priest, Kraftwerk. The White Album, the bands in the film The Decline of the Western Civilization, which I saw with fellow 15-year-old high school classmate and first bandmate, Lou Barlow, people like Fear, X, and Alice Bag were inspiring too. I gravitate to more guitar-based music, and it’s usually punk, hardcore, and metal bands, though I got into instrumental music like Michael Hedges, The Ventures, and singer-songwriters like John Hiatt and Freedy Johnston as well.

Samantha: I find it hard to pinpoint musical influences as I’ve listened to so many opposing styles throughout my life, and I had never set out to do music for a living. It just kind of happened organically. I gravitated toward songwriters like Paul Simon, Shawn Colvin, Cat Stevens …In my mind’s eye, I see myself belting out and singing to artists like Aretha Franklin, Alanis Morissette and Concrete Blonde. Everything from Sweet to Beethoven to Siouxsie Sioux to Gainsbourg has filled my ears. However, I think art and film occupy an equal amount of influence. There are a few films that stick in my mind that made a profound imprint, like Birdie, Into The Wild, Thelma and Louise. The book The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho, had a big impact at a time when I was turning my back on corporate life and finally committing to a creative life.

The single “Mon Souvenir” is a teaser and taster for your seventh album, Zen Ghost. What can we expect from this new long player?

Scott: This is a much darker record than our past releases. It obviously still sounds like us, but there are more mid-tempo and moody songs on Zen Ghost. There’s more space and atmosphere here, whereas, in the past, a lot of songs were more frenetic and up-tempo with a modern cabaret rock kind of feel. With each record we do, there are several styles that we tend to touch upon without even thinking about it. When we write, we always go with what we are feeling at that moment in time.

We wrote these songs during the 2nd half of the pandemic, so that obviously affected the music, but it also made the record more focused sound and theme-wise. The really cool thing about the new songs for me is that with more atmosphere in the music, it’s given Samantha more space to sing out and really shine and hold notes and explore her vocal abilities. She has this great powerful voice and it just soars on a lot of these tunes like “Temple of Sleep” and “Church of Sound.”

And is there anything that you are trying to say on the album, i.e. any recurring themes that are important to you or any conversations that you are trying to start?

Samantha: This album’s theme is a bit of a deviation from the others. Up until now, my lyrics have overwhelmingly been a celebration of finally waking up and walking my true path in this life. I came to all of this late. Even though I had so much art and music and dance in my life, I had been dissuaded early on from pursuing any of that, and I ended up living a life that made no sense to me, working in corporate environments that were literally sucking my soul dry. So when I did make the commitment to a creative life, and it seemed to be working out in a magical way, I was inspired to write to that experience.

I do hope that I inspire people to put their fear and insecurity aside and just go for it. Zen Ghost is a bit darker. It speaks to the concept of mind phantoms, experiences that had an impact on our lives that we may think we have transcended but that can haunt us nonetheless. Trauma, big or small, has a way of doing that. It was also written during the pandemic and the aftermath of the political and cultural chaos that flourished during the preceding years. In my writing, there are two kernels of what I consider truth; love and the responsibility we all have to find our joy because in so doing, we are happier.

Content people tend not to be so quickly offended, so quick to judge, so quick to bitterness and anger. To do things in our lives that we have an innate ability for, that brings us joy, is the greatest service we can do for yourselves and for others. It spills over, and we serve by default. No matter if we are talking about songwriting or about plumbing, teaching, landscaping, or accountancy, we all have different talents and callings. When we can unearth them and have the opportunity to pursue them, they all can be brought to art. There are two quotes that come to mind, Ralph Waldo Emerson “Imitation is Suicide” and Martin Luther King’s “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry…”

With seven albums behind you, what would you say has changed for you and the band over those years? Is it easier or harder to be a band these days?

Scott: I can answer that with a cliche. The more things change the more they stay the same. We’ve always been very DIY, selling CDs and shirts out of the back of the van, designing and creating all the artwork ourselves. It’s just like how I started out playing in bands in the early 80s. We just did it ourselves and didn’t really ask anyone else. Self-reliant and self-sufficient, perhaps to a fault. One of the things that’s changed for us really is the selling mediums. We are lucky that we play for audiences that still buy CDs, though it’s a lot less.

The introduction of downloads and then streaming affected income at shows. But we just adapt and move with those industry changes. I think it is easier being in a band these days. It’s easier to get music out there and have it reach a worldwide audience, but with that, you have way more artists trying to reach that audience, so it levels out again. I have always been about just getting out there and playing live and working that way, but some musicians are great at building something online without the endless hours in a van.

Samantha: Scott has much more experience with being in the music scene from the get go than myself. I think the biggest difference for me in the 17 years we’ve been doing this project is we’re better songwriters, my voice has really evolved and our recordings get better and better. Being so viscerally DIY, it’s been a slow and arduous process. For the first seven or so years we played more in bars and cafes and event spaces in metaphysical shops and that has shifted since then to more clubs, conventions and festivals. Ironically, the pandemic really revealed to us that all the years of schlepping around the country and in Europe really did build something. The support we had during the lockdown was amazing. We may feel like we’re spinning our wheels sometimes but there are times like that where we understand that even though we are so underground, we have in fact built something special.

Has your writing or recording process evolved or changed over that time? Tell me about that.

Scott: Our early records tended to be a bit stark, while our live shows had more going on because I do live looping guitar and Samantha plays percussion. The past 3 albums were recorded to reflect our live show better. We tend to perform all the parts ourselves in the studio. Unlike a full band where each person has their role, I play the drum parts to a scratch guitar and then add the bass and do guitar melody overdubs. We also program beats, so in that sense, the recording process is more like a hip-hop or dance act creating beats to go with the melodic idea. We have had a couple of guest performers and for Zen Ghost, we have upright bass player, Jason Sarubbi, who is also our engineer, in the song “Church of Sound” which is a track about the power of music.

Samantha: The first album we did was all in French. I didn’t plan it that way; that’s just how it happened, perhaps because French was my first language. We do still have one French song on each album, but all is mostly in English now, though having said that, Zen Ghost is the first album without a track in French. I have, throughout the years, come up with the melody lines and also contributed to the music writing but I think that in Zen Ghost I was perhaps even more involved. I had a chance to play around with keyboard sounds, which I really enjoyed, in songs like “Temple of Sleep”, “Come In And Play”, “If The Word Doesn’t End First” and “Oxygen”. I definitely have developed more technique with my voice and can play around with the feel of the song more than in the past. Also, during the writing process, it often feels like I’m grabbing lyrics from the ether, that they are already there and I’m just accessing them. This was particularly true of the track “I’ll See You Again” which was totally a stream-of-consciousness written song. Scott and I have such an incredible symbiosis when we write, it’s always been that way, and it just gets stronger and stronger.

With the music scene changing so drastically during Covid-related lockdowns, how has this affected what you do in terms of recording, playing life or otherwise? And how are you managing to spread the word about your music in the post-pandemic landscape?

Scott: Even though the uncertainty of the time and horrible things that were happening set a dark tone it was oddly kinda refreshing to have time off from the road. We had been in a cycle of booking and playing 100+ shows a year since 2005 without a break at all, we even continued to play live stream concerts from our basement throughout 2020. 2021 was tougher mentally to navigate but I was still able to write and record another solo album and we were able to do this new FnP record. Promoting music is still kinda the same, it’s all very social media based so that hasn’t changed and gigs have really come back in a big way. Though the indoor shows are still a bit nerve-wracking with lingering Covid. Luckily we play a lot of outdoor festivals.

Samantha: We hit the ground running when the lockdown happened and started live streams right away. We were creating veritable art installations in our basement for weekly themed concerts! We were propelled by the kinetic energy of all the years before, it was like we didn’t know how to stop. By December 2020, we were exhausted, we just collapsed. That’s when we turned more seriously to writing the new record.

We had started a Patreon in February 2020 which was amazing timing, as if we knew what was about to happen. So online support has definitely become more prominent. Playing out live has changed, we are weary of doing indoor shows and luckily, we’ve had lots of outdoor events. We’ve always been very DIY and sometimes it feels like we are winning people over one at a time, but there does seem to be some momentum happening right now greased by all the years of being out there and also enlisting some help. We just keep on going, keep on creating…there’s an expression in French ‘c’est plus fort que moi’ which means it’s such a strong impulse that it’s a greater force than me alone.

And where next for Frenchy and the Punk?

Scott: We have an art opening at Gallery40 in Poughkeepsie, NY in October that will display my pen and ink drawings and collaborations with Samantha. They’re all based on the Batfrog symbol that we use in the band’s imagery. We have more tour dates in the US this year and head to the U.K. in December. In 2023 we have a bunch of festivals lined up and of course, more videos to shoot and edit. We’ll be out there supporting Zen Ghost and, along the way, compiling ideas for new songs.

Samantha: Music, art, touring, performing, recording… create, create, create. That’s why we’re here.